Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Compassionate Conversation – Empathic Listening

In my last post “What To Do When You Are Feeling Overwhelmed by Combative Conversation” we talked about how to identify the facts of the situation, identify and become aware of your feelings, the needs/wants that are causing those feelings, and how to make a request that will  ease or allay those feelings.  That was only one half of the equation.  The second half may be harder.

In order to complete a compassionate conversation, because no conversation is one-sided, it requires us to listen with empathy.  Empathy compels you to still the chatter in your mind, and listen with every aspect of your being.  It is respectful and seeks to understand what others are experiencing.  Chuang-Tzu, a Chinese philosopher, says “The hearing of the spirit is not limited to any one faculty, to the ear, or to the mind…. There is then a direct grasp of what is right there before you that can never be heard with the ear or understood with the mind.”

There are so many things that get in the way of listening with empathy.  The biggest in my mind, and I was going to say especially for men, but many women need to take ownership of this as well:  Believing that we need to “fix” situations and make others feel better. We are big on this in my family, and it creates expectations of behavior, anger, fear, and the inability to be present in the conversation (the gears are going constantly).  Some others I have run into lately are:

  • Advising – “Here’s what I think you should do…”  “Why didn’t you….?”  This is especially hard for people in the helping professions – we often think it is our duty to give advice rather than help someone work it out for themselves.
  • One-upping:  Have you ever been in a conversation where you say something, and the person you are talking to says “Well that’s nothing, wait until you hear what happened to me!”, or they had to tell you a story – “That reminds me of the time…”  It made you feel small, didn’t it?  As if what you had to say was not as important as what they had to say, or that they had to turn it into something about them.
  • Consoling or Sympathizing:  Rather than really listening to what you have to say, and seeking understanding, what you get is an “I’m sorry…” or “What an awful thing to happen to you…” or “You did the best you could with what you knew…”
  • And then there is the ultimate, shutting you down:  “Suck it up, it could be worse…”

The same process we talked about in relationship to paying attention to your own feelings in a combative conversation applies to listening for the other participant’s feelings and needs.  In order to do this well, you can’t take responsibility for their feelings or take their messages personally.  Because it is so very difficult to do this, it is particularly important to play back what we understood them to say, whether it is what they observed, what they are feeling, the needs they have that make them feel that way, and what they are requesting.  This should be done if we are unsure we grasped what they said or if we sense the other person would like confirmation that we have followed the message, especially when it is extremely emotional.  It is also critical to keep our tone of voice centered around asking if we have understood rather than declaring we have understood, or implying criticism or sarcasm.

Just for today, I will be mindful of what might be getting in my way of listening with empathy.

What gets in your way of, and creates obstacles to, listening with empathy?

Georgia Feiste, President of Collaborative Transitions Coaching, Inc., located in Lincoln, NE, is a personal growth and leadership coach, writer, and workshop facilitator.  She is also a Usui Reiki Master and EFT practitioner.  Her passion is success grounded in purpose and passion, standards of integrity and priorities in life.  You can also find Georgia on her website, Collaborative Transitions, Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook.   Georgia may also be reached at (402) 304-1902 if you wish to schedule a 30 minute complementary consultation.

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